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Why Walking Your Dog is Great Exercise
Grab a leash and get moving!

Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually Nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 16 percent of Americans ages 15 and older exercised at all on an average day! This is where your canine personal trainer can help. A survey of dog owners, conducted at the University of Western Australia and published in Health Promotion Journal of Australia in August 2008, revealed that dogs are great motivators for walking because they:

  • Provide a strong motivation to maintain a program
  • Are good walking companions
  • Provide good social support when exercising

What are the benefits of regular exercise? Dr. Joanna Kruk reviewed medical literature describing the health benefits of exercise. Her research showed that the risk of developing a number of serious health problems is reduced by physical activity and exercise:

  • Breast cancer risk reduced by 75 percent
  • Heart disease risk decreased by 49 percent
  • Diabetes risk lowered by 35 percent
  • Colon cancer risk decreased by 22 percent

How much exercise is enough? According to the World Health Organization, adequate exercise to promote good health includes:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week
  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises

Researchers at the University of Western Australia found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners. Among new dog owners monitored for one year, recreational walking increased by an average of 48 minutes per week. And, among folks like you who read dog magazines, six in every 10 walked their dogs every day.

Is dog walking really effective exercise? Many people are become interested in exercise to help lose excess weight. Obesity is a global epidemic, affecting about one in every three to four adults in the United States and Europe. Dog ownership and obesity were evaluated in Seattle, Wash., and Baltimore, Md., in a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine in September 2008. Dog owners who reported walking their dogs were almost 25 percent less likely to be obese than people without dogs. Researchers in the April 2008 issue of Health Promotion Journal of Australia reported that having a dog in the house reduced the risk of childhood obesity by half!

Plan for success. It’s easy to forget about healthy walking plans, so set the stage for a successful program:

  • Establish a walking schedule; plan to walk 30 minutes total each day. This might include a 10-minute neighborhood walk in the morning and a 20-minute romp at the dog park after work. Or maybe three 10-minute walks or one 30-minute walk fit in better with your day.
  • If dog walking is “scheduled” into each day, you’ll feel more responsible for sticking with your program. Plus, your dog will also get used to the routine and remind you when “it’s time!”
  • Track your progress; you can download a walking progress calendar here.
  • Post a calendar on the refrigerator and add a sticker for each 10 minutes of walking you do each day. This will reinforce your good behavior and make you pause before opening the door to grab a calorie-laden snack!

So, grab a leash, whistle up the pup, and go for a walk—today and every day! Dog walking is a great way to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle program.


Dawn A. Marcus, MD, is a medical doctor and professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; she has written nine medical books, including most recently, Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health. dawnmarcusmd.com

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CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by lin | October 12 2009 |

When we first adopted our dog she did 45 minutes of continuous ball play twice a day. Now, a number of years later, she's down to a 20-minute walk, and often she'll get up in the morning, look at me, look at the leash and her look will say, "I don't think so." Since she started slowing down, I've noticed I've put on a couple of pounds. So I've started doing a 10 minute jog sans dog. By the time I get back from my mini-run, the pup is anxious about being left behind and is ready to go for her 6 block walk.

Submitted by Deborah | August 14 2012 |

I love that her exercise needs got you out and moving when she was young dog, and now your healthy routines are encouraging her to stay active.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 8 2009 |

I'm absolutely astonished that only 60% of dog owners walk their dog every day! I'd classify my dog as only moderate energy level but he still gets 1 to 2 hours walks a day, plus 20mins at lunchtime on weekdays from the dog walker. Admittedly I don't have to juggle kids into my schedule which I imagine is where things get tricky for many dog owners, but I do work 6 days a week, plus have dietary restrictions which mean I have to spend at least 7 hours a week in the kitchen making all my food from scratch.
I think my Billy would tear the house apart if he didn't get walked every day - do the other 4 out of 10 dog owners have any shoes left??!!

Submitted by Me | November 12 2013 |

Well, ours goes out for a walk just 10-15 min a day plus a long walk once or twice a week, depending on the weather (which is horrendous at our place especially in the autumn-winter). And still she didn't chew anything, didn't scratch anything. I guess it depends on the dog.

Submitted by Jennifer | June 15 2010 |

If you want a better workout while walking your dog, check out the Power Leash. It’s a retractable dog leash with adjustable weights. It was recently featured on Good Morning America if you'd like to check it out:

Submitted by Susi&Linus | August 31 2012 |

I,too, am shocked that only 60% of dog owners take their dog for a daily walk.
What do those people do to entertain their dogs, make them socialize with other pups and how on earth are those dogs able to "do their business"?

I own a Sheltie and we take him out at least 3-times a day (morning, afternoon, evening) for a total of about 2-3 hours of walking. When the weather is right, we play Frisbee, do a bicycle tour or go to the lake so he can swim. Additionally, we play with him indoors or practice trick dogging. I wouldn't even consider this a lot of time!

Not even small dogs like Chihuahuas or Yorkies deserve this little attention! Every dog has the natural desire to be outside and sniff around. This has nothing to do with age or breed.

Submitted by Fred Rodriguez | October 31 2012 |

Walking your dogs is a great exercise and also a good way to meet people based on my experience. I have a running dog, which runs with me for a good one hour. It helped me lose weight but also helped to protect me from bad company while running. Though most of the time, my dog was a good talking point with other runners as well. Of course, I have to use dog collars and leash him well so that I won’t scare a lot of people since he is a big but lean. I have ample new supplies of collars and good leashes quite a fair bit since we run frequently and we need to change his ‘look’ frequently.
Fred - http://www.cooldog-gear.com

Submitted by irvine lampson | January 9 2013 |

Walking is always good for health but walking alone is somewhat boring.But we can walk with our dogs.This exercise helps to reduce weight and feel fresh.

Submitted by Uchenna Ani-Okoye | October 9 2013 |

Looks like sound advice, although I have seen circumstances where the condition of the dog was a reflection on how lazy the owner was. So though I think it would work most of the time, there are those times when an individual would still find it difficult to stick to such a regime even with a dog around.

Submitted by Tanja | May 31 2014 |

I'm from Germany, we don't know it any other way. We usually walk our dogs 3 times a day, just the thought of them doing their business in the garden or lawn is disgusting. I've been helping out with the shelters for a while now and I'm sorry to say, Americans (Military families) aren't allowed to get dogs or cats out of the shelter anymore. They keep their pets in kennels, to prevent them from destroying stuff or pee/ poop in the house. If the dog would be exercised (walking and training) I'm positive they would behave. How would you feel if you'd be locked in a small area, with barely room to turn, for hours on end? You'd go nuts. Same with the animals. They have tons of energy, and unless they get to work that energy off, they will try to get rid of it another way. If you are not willing to ensure the pets well being, I.E. feeding, walking invest time and training, you have no business getting a pet. Sorry if I seem rude, but it makes me mad, that so many "adults" take on a pet and treat them horribly.
So get off your lazy behind and get walking. Your dog will love it.

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